COVID antiviral pill reduces hospitalizations, deaths by half, drug maker says

Merck plans to seek emergency use authorization in the U.S.

There may soon be another weapon in the battle against COVID-19.

DETROIT – There may soon be another weapon in the battle against COVID-19.

Drug maker Merck announced Friday that its experimental antiviral pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in those infected. Merck plans to seek emergency use authorization for what could be the first antiviral pill to treat coronavirus.

It’s called molnupiravir. It’s an antiviral pill that is taken as four capsules, twice a day for five days. It’s designed to be taken at the first sign of an infection and works to block coronavirus from reproducing itself by inserting errors into the virus’ genetic code.

In a phase three study of 775 volunteers, 7% of those in the group that received the drug were hospitalized and there were no deaths. 14% of the placebo group were hospitalized and eight died.

“The efficacy of this particular antiviral is obviously very good news. The company, when they briefed us last night, had mentioned that they will be submitting their data to the FDA imminently. The data are impressive. There was a 50% diminution,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci. “Of importance is that in the placebo group there were eight deaths, and in the treatment group there were no deaths. That’s also very important and very good news.”

The Merck pill is less effective than the monoclonal antibody treatments already available, which have been shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths 70-85%.

Read: 63 new Michigan COVID facts -- Hospital metrics, new variant category, slowed increase in spread

Health experts were quick to point out that the treatment is not a substitute for vaccines, which are highly effective at actually preventing infections.

Molnupiravir would be the first pill shown to successfully treat COVID-19, which would be a major advance in efforts to fight the pandemic. As of Oct. 1, all COVID therapies authorized in the United States -- including antiviral drug Remdesivir -- require an IV or injection at hospitals or clinics.

If the pill is authorized, the federal government has already ordered enough to treat 1.7 million patients. It would likely be used for the highest-risk patients first.

It might not be the only one. Pfizer and Roche also have antiviral pills in late-state trials that are expected to have results within the next few months.

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About the Authors:

You can watch Kimberly Gill weekdays anchoring Local 4 News at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. and streaming live at 10 p.m. on Local 4+. She's an award-winning journalist who finally called Detroit home in 2014. Kim has won Regional Emmy Awards, and was part of the team that won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast in 2022.

Dane is a producer and media enthusiast. He previously worked freelance video production and writing jobs in Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Dane graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.